There’s a healthy debate that pops up from time to time about the role of a manager. More precisely, the discussion usually centers on what sort of actual, tangible effect a manager can have on a baseball game. It’s probably something that is inherently more case by case than suitable to be filed under one sweeping declaration of truth, but I’ve long thought that the best any manager can hope for is to ascribe his duties under what has been commonly associated* with the Hippocratic Oath that doctors hinge their careers upon: Do no harm.
* The phrase doesn’t actually appear in the oath, though it does contain this wording—”I will not be ashamed to say ‘I know not’”—which applies here as well.
Maybe a MLB manager can’t win your team a whole lot of games by himself, but by all means, do not render your presence on the bench to that of a net-negative. Do no harm to your team.
Lately, there’s been a whole lot of negativity surrounding Terry Collins. It’s not his fault the Mets have suffered a litany of season-affecting injuries. He didn’t give Matt Harvey thoracic outlet syndrome. He didn’t plague David Wright with chronic spinal stenosis. He hasn’t slowed Zack Wheeler’s interminable rehab from Tommy John surgery. The list goes on. Collins caused none of these things, so we should try and separate these instances from the greater picture.
But Collins is not doing a great job with what’s left of these Mets, both on the field and off. He got snippy with P.R. chief Jay Horwitz about having to disclose Noah Syndergaard’s health earlier this season, but then made him pitch the sixth inning on July 31 when he was already sitting on 105 pitches. Syndergaard finished with 118 pitches. The Mets are in the midst of an increasingly lost season and their star pitcher, who is pitching with a bone spur in his right elbow, has now thrown at least 105 pitches in four straight starts. He hasn’t gone past six innings in any of them, meaning he has and is laboring through everything nowadays. At a time when the Mets need to be thinking about 2017 and beyond, this feels like an irresponsible approach to an already fragile arm. (Same thing applies to letting Steven Matz, who is also dealing with a bone spur, throw 120 pitches in six innings on Sunday. Seriously, why?)
That’s just one really glaring issue out of many recent ones. Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the Tigers was a Collins-fueled debacle in so many ways. Facing a 25-year-old left-hander named Matt Boyd, making his 22nd career start and with a career ERA over 6.00, Collins chose not to start Michael Conforto but instead put Ty Kelly in left field and Rene Rivera at designated hitter. His steadfast refusal to play Conforto against southpaws has been a source of frustration since the earliest moments of the season, and yet Collins will not give the Mets’ best young hitter any extended playing time against lefties. If anything, this is exactly the sort of game in which you let Conforto get in his cuts. He was a first-round pick and has the chance to become a special kind of hitter. He can and will learn how to hit lefties at least adequately well—just not while Collins is on the bench. Only once Boyd was pulled from the game did Conforto enter as a pinch-hitter for Rivera and finish out the game as DH.
Collins then opted not to pinch-run Brandon Nimmo in the ninth in place of Jay Bruce, who started on second base but was thrown out at home by J.D. Martinez, who gunned a perfect one-hop strike in from shallow right field. Asked about it after the game, Collins pled ignorance about whether Nimmo or Bruce was faster, even going so far to posit that maybe Bruce is the fastest player on the team but how he would know? There’s a layer of folksy sarcasm under there, but Collins is shielding himself with the fact that Bruce is a recent addition to the team and he simply couldn’t know him that well yet. It was as absurd an attempt at a defense as we’ve heard from him all season. And baseball watchers who are invested in these games would know that Nimmo, while not Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson, had plus-speed as a prospect and is almost certainly more likely to run 180 feet faster than Bruce. Collins, above all, needs to know who gives the team the best chance to win. And if he doesn’t have a great handle on Bruce’s attributes, then Bruce should take a seat until Collins does, because then you’re just playing games with the lineup and playing someone solely because of how much money they’re making. And once you do that, you’re harkening back to the worst traits of those forgettable Mets teams of the early ‘90s. That’s what these past few weeks have reminded me of.
On top of all that, Collins’ refusal to challenge the final play was nonsensical. Even if Bruce didn’t touch the plate, the play looked close enough. He had nothing to lose by challenging. After the game, he shrugged it off, tried to cast some blame on the Mets’ video review guy (who only did his job in this case), and chalked it up to a lesson learned. It was a fitting end to a sub-subpar day.
Indeed, the whole week had the tone of a building fiasco. Preceding the mess in Detroit was the controversy over Yoenis Cespedes, his lingering quad injury, and how it might or might not relate to his golf game. Collins made it personal, going after the media (and, more directly, Newsday’s Marc Carig, who was only doing his job) and talking about what he can control versus those elements beyond his grasp. “I don’t care about perception!” Collins snapped. “I deal with reality.”
But the reality with the Mets as of late is that they stand nine games back of Washington in the East, two games out of the Wild Card game, and everyone continues to do their job to the best of their ability except for Collins. His decisions of late are hindering the development of the Mets’ best young players and he increasingly says one thing while his actions illustrate the opposite. Like lamenting Syndergaard’s tenuous health status and then running him out there when doing so could prove injurious. Like saying he’s going to rest Jeurys Familia after he pitched twice in a row, including an ugly blown save, and then pitches him again the next night, resulting in another blown save. It’s not as bad as Matt Harvey pressuring Collins into letting him pitch one more fateful World Series inning, but the Mets don’t figure to be in a big spot like that for some time yet to come. “I let my heart get in the way of my gut,” Collins said after the Game 5 loss to Kansas City. Maybe that’s not exactly what we’re seeing this season, but it’s a variation on a familiar theme. And right now, the song can’t remain the same.
Maybe Collins is frosty because he didn’t ask for Jay Bruce to become a Met and, considering the lengthening list of injuries, he thinks he’s doing the best he can with a suboptimal situation. Maybe he doesn’t like young players like Conforto or Nimmo. Maybe he feels resentful about having to answer questions from the media every time something with this team goes to hell. If any of that is true, the good news for Collins is that it probably won’t be his responsibility to worry about any of it next season.
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